Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rockin in 1970

ON Friday I have a New York Times review of an interesting if imperfect new book called Fire and Rain, which looks at the year 1970 and the making of four hugely popular records -- The Beatles' Let it Be, CSNY's Deja Vu, James Taylor's Sweet Baby James and Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water.

If you love all these artists, by all means pick up David Browne's book. Otherwise -- as I get into in the review -- it's a mixed success.

Browne's key records sold like crazy at the time -- but even then there were people who considered them insubstantial. "I consider his soft sound a cop out," Ellen Willis wrote of Paul Simon in the New Yorker. "And I hate most of his lyrics; his alienation, like the word itself, is an old-fashioned, sentimental, West-Side-liberal bore." (My guess is that she was rocking out to CCR at the time.)

(This BBC video of James Taylor from 1970 is better than almost anything on his albums, by the way.)

More on all this later. What's your favorite record from 1970?


Deborah said...

Sapphire Thinkers, "From Within" Full disclosure: these are my parents..

MikeL said...

1970 pivotal yr in my relationship
with music - freshman yr college
saw Allman Bros "steal" top bill fr
Chicago. Jeff Airplane asking us why aren't we supporting Black Panthers on trial in New Haven. Summer Concert for Peace at Shea Stadium feat. Poco,James Gang, Johnny Winter And,Janis runs on field to join former band Big Brother. CCR,Steppenwolf moving upper deck of stadium. Halloween with Grateful Dead & New Riders.
Should I read Ellen Willis book "Out of Vinyl" instead?

Scott Timberg said...

Browne gets into some of those things you mention, Mike, as well as Nixon's Southern strategy, post-Manson, stuff, etc...

The Willis book is, I think, an anthology of old pieces, very different than what Browne is doing.

EC Gladstone said...

Favorite record from 1970? I want to say 'Funhouse' or maybe the first Funkadelic album; the interesting aspect of music that year is how pablum the mainstream started to become and how intense underground music was. Dichotomous to the extreme.

Scott Timberg said...

To Gladstone: Stooges and Funkadelic came up a lot in my unofficial poll w friends... And vs. mainstream vs fringes: You've put your fingers on part of what didn't work in the book...

MikeL said...

Underground music in '70 would incl
Beginning of Rap from Gil-Scott Heron ( RIP )
Beginning of Pub Rock from Brinsley
Schwarz in UK
Have you heard song "Mongoose" from politically involved NYC band Elephant's Memory (worked with John Lennon )

Scott Timberg said...

Good points, MikeL -- know that band by reputation but don't know the song...

Pete Bilderback said...

I don't really like any of those records much although I am sure there is much to admire and appreciate about all of them. But to my ears it's just a short jump from the relative blandness of these albums to the complete interchangeability of so much 70s soft-rock (Firefall, Gerry Rafferty, Dan Fogelberg, Poco, etc.).

Some albums I do like from that year include:

Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs + Barrett
The Stooges - Fun House
Nick Drake - Bryter Layter
Merle Haggard - A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (Or, My Salute to Bob Wills)
Neil Young - After The Gold Rush
The Velvet Underground - Loaded
MC5 - Back In The USA

The first Funkadelic album is good, but the first Parliament album, Osmium (also from 1970), is even better, IMO.

CSN (and sometimes) Y never did much for me, but Crosby's first solo album, If Only I Could Remember My Name from 1971 is brilliant.

But then I wasn't really there at the time (I turned one in July of 1970), and my perspective is very much colored by the fact that I was a fan of punk and indie rock when I came of age in the 80s. My feelings about these albums might be very different if I was 10 or 15 years older.

Scott Timberg said...

Pete: As your blog demonstrates, music/culture in general is very much about perspective and context and memory.

However you slice it, many of the records you mention are more interesting than Browne's... And unlike Pictures at a Revolution, his book is inflected in a way that it doesn't work if you're not in board with his taste.

filmex said...

"ON Friday I have a New York Times review of an interesting if imperfect new book called Fire and Rain..." You go on here to call it a mixed success.

I had to find out who wrote many of the incomprehensible things noted in that review.

As someone who was a junior in high school that year, I think the albums listed are probably as good a launching pad for a discussion of the period as any.

The FINAL albums by both the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel were probably better benchmarks than many of the alternatives you listed.

While Young's "After the Gold Rush" was a hugely important LP, you'd be hard press to say it was more influential than "Deja Vu". The harmonies on every Eagles album of the 70s borrowed from "Deja Vu". Neil's album was genius, but who did it really influence.

I LOVED Bowie but since it took a long time for his records to arrive, much less connect here, outside of the Bowie cult (and I was a member), he had no effect on US culture until "Ziggy Stardust". The tunes on "Space Oddity" had great influence, around 1973.

While "Bridge..." is as vapid a hymn released this side of "Let It Be", "El Condor Pasa", "Cecilia", "So Long Frank Lloyd Wright" and "The Boxer" were as good as any songs to appear that year.

And while artists such as Nick Drake and Gram Parsons did some fine work, do you think picking obscure artists would have been more reflective or evocative of the era? Sheesh, where's Tim Buckley?

Seriously, people like Gram Parsons were more influential to other musical artists, particularly amongst the Laurel Canyon crowd, than they were to the nation at large.

If you mention Parsons to people these days, even music enthusiasts, they can't name a single tune but might remember his body being stolen.

I dunno, I thought Mark Harris’s “Pictures at a Revolution” was a brilliant book. And he didn't pick the five best films of that year, but the films that were nominated for Best Picture, as a reflection of the era.

I'm still reading this book, but your negative review (and, no parsing, that's what it was), has me scratching my head.

In 1970 I loved Cat Steven's "Tea For The Tillerman" and Van Morrison's Moondance", Clapton's Derek project, "Layla" and "Elton John's album.

And personally, I would never listen to "Sweet Baby James" as long as I was within a Hermosa Beach crawl of The Kinks "Lola vs Powerman".

But, criminy, how do you play THAT game. And as a writer, do you really want people second-guessing those kind of subjective starting points for discussion?

1970 was an amazing year. It still had some of the sweetness of the 1960s (which is still the most vainglorious decade I ever experienced), but it also revealed the emerging stink.

1969 went out with the Manson murders followed by the Altamont concert fiasco. People like to claim those two events killed off the 60s.

What really killed it was the entire counter-culture had been co-opted by that point. The fashion, the hairstyles, the slang had all gone mainstream.

Johnny Carson's male guests wore Nehru jackets and the females wore minis. "Laugh In', 'The Mod Squad", and "The Partridge Family" were all big hits. The only show able to maintain its subversiveness was "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" which is why it was killed the year before.

Again, Harris' book was brilliant, but if I had been given the task to review it, I'm not sure I would have spent my time pondering why anyone is wasting any words on "Dr. Doolittle" when "Cool Hand Luke", "In Cold Blood", "The Anderson Platoon", "Titicut Follies" and "I Am Curious Yellow" were all more notable in their own ways.

MikeL said...

I turned 18 in 1970-Hi Alice Cooper
I wanted to engage the world and not be holed up in my college dorm room being soothed by gentle sound
from singer-songwriters. I rocked out to BANDS making glorious LOUD music. J.Geils Humble Pie,Black Sabbath,Allmans,Mountain,etc. So you can't dissect their lyrics but maybe you can describe their power and influence.

filmex said...

P.S. And the fact that you virtually blame/credit CSN&Y, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles and James Taylor for the punk rock movement leaves me wondering if you were even born in 1970.

By the end of that year, CSN&Y, The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel, in the immortal words of Monty Python's parrot sketch "ceased to exist". And James Taylor, forever checking in and out of Needle Park, would never again have the same success.

To think the forthcoming punk rock kids, barely into puberty in 1970, sat and stewed for a half decade raging about THOSE artists is a peyote-inspired concept.

The punk rock movement was, in large part, a direct response to the progressive rock movement that was so dominant mid-decade.

The upper-class literary lyrics and endless instrumental solos of bands such as Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Genesis, Supertramp, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull etc. with their 15-minute songs simply didn't connect with an emerging audience that saw no future for themselves.

Consequently, forming bands with members who couldn't even play instruments was a direct response to those upper crust bands with members who all had classical music training.

To try and make the case, because the aforementioned groups Browne focuses on apparently aren't your cup of tea or weren't important in your musical flowering, that they were not important to the culture at large, or were so long-haired as to have spawned the punk rock movement is sheer nonsense.

As Patti Smith observes in the documentary "25 Years of Punk", while the "kill the hippies" myth has made for good copy over the years (particularly thanks to shows like "The Young Ones"), the hippies and the punk rockers were actually linked by a common anti-establishment mentality.

Or maybe that's what you were getting at - the punkers were "inspired" these groups. :-)

douglas said...

First, nice NYT review. I was in Spokane, and I remember hearing Burrito Bros on the radio, but only bought their LPs long after. Moody Blues, Stephen Stills, Neil Young & McCartney were big. Saw Badfinger, Seals & Crofts, and a few more.

Pete Bilderback said...

I think Scott said CSN, etc. made punk "necessary," which is not the same as saying their music caused or even influenced punk.

Good review. Hopefully we will see your byline in the NYT more often...they could use your help.

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Peepawism said...

Deborah.. I'm doing a show on record collecting & I LOVE The Saphhire Thinkers LP!!
I would like to find out more about the LP & it's history.
email me: